Saturday, 26 June 2010

CFZ special: Book extract!

Big cats prowl the bush
by Rebecca Lang and Michael Williams
Helicopters hover noisily overhead, the occupants scanning the sheep-filled paddocks, undulating grassy terrain fringed with dark, forbidding bush.
On the ground, rangers comb the property, deep in the Victorian countryside. Their hand-held radios briefly crackle into life, sounding hard and scratchy amid the dull “thwock, thwock, thwock” of the helicopter blades above. State-of-the-art thermal imaging equipment throws up heat signatures of wildlife and livestock, transforming flesh and blood into blobby splashes of red with yellow-green haloes as the rangers scan the land for something large and out-of-place. Something alien and deadly. Something on a killing spree.
Hollywood couldn’t have done it better. But this isn’t an action sequence from some creature feature; these events actually took place in 1997 on a farm near Woodside, a small town in Victoria’s Gippsland, part of an effort by the state’s Department of Sustainability and the Environment (DSE) to deal with an unknown predator that had slaughtered more than 400 sheep in two years, each victim expertly dispatched (and devoured) with the efficiency of a butcher.
DSE officials were stumped, and they were pulling out all stops to try to solve the mystery that had so far cost a Victorian farmer thousands of dollars in lost stock – and threatened the credibility of the department. Trapping, snaring and fur traps had all failed to reveal the true nature of the beast, so thermal imaging equipment was employed in an eleventh-hour bid to halt the stock losses. There was talk of wild dogs at the time, but none of the corpses bore the hallmarks of dog attacks. There was no mess and little blood, and most of the corpses were devoid of flesh with only head, hide and hooves left behind. It was, for the most part, a clean, clinical kill every time.
Just as unusual – and even more disturbing – was the discovery early one morning of several sheep standing in a field, their faces mauled beyond recognition. They were still alive – just – but where a snout should have protruded from each woolly face there was now just a mass of red, shredded flesh and broken cartilage and bone.
The woman at the centre of the drama, sheep farmer Elizabeth Balderstone, was mystified as to what had attacked and killed hundreds of her sheep. “Over the two and a half years we’ve lost over 400 sheep,” Ms Balderstone told ABC Radio in July 1999. “We have them badly mauled around the tail and still alive but will die within a couple of days, or mauled around the face when whole jawbones have been removed. Other times the sheep are killed and partially or totally eaten out, when there’s just the fleece and bone skeleton left, and very little else.”
Overshadowing the gruesome discoveries were sightings of two enormous cats on the property – one brown, the other black – by a local dogger and the property’s manager. Could these monster-sized moggies have been responsible for the carnage?
Just over 40km away, Binginwarri dairy farmer Ron Jones was also starting to lose livestock to a mystery predator, as was his 82-year-old mother who lives on a nearby farm. Today the skulls of bovine victims dangle from a tree on his property, a grim reminder of a predator that attacks under cover of darkness. Jones has seen the cat(s) countless times, even shooting at it with his .22 calibre magnum rifle – a weapon he believes lacks the firepower to bring down an animal “the size of a golden retriever”.
“I’ve had cattle taken within a hundred metres of the house,” he said. “I’ve seen one at about 70 yards [64m] … It was a big, fawny-coloured cat, which was nearly as high as a strainer post which was three foot six [1m] high – it would have been about nine or 10 inches [23-25cm] wide across the chest.”
Jones has assembled a grisly photo album of dead livestock from properties around the area to build a case for the existence of the large cats, which he believes are responsible for the strange stock deaths. The scale of predation on his and neighbouring properties has raised eyebrows in government departments, and prompted some investigation. In nearby Yarram, DSE employees filmed other strangely wounded livestock around the same period – cattle with their flanks raked by claws, their hides scarred.
So who, or what, was responsible for the carnage? And why have the experiences of three Victorian farmers been echoed all over the country? For almost 150 years, sightings of strange, cat-like creatures have been reported and documented across Australia. While predominantly described as resembling jet-black panthers or sandy-coloured pumas and lions, spotted and striped large cats have also been reported since white settlement.
In their wake they have left a trail of destruction. Mutilated cattle, sheep and family pets are a testament to the ruthless efficiency of these mystery predators, which occasionally leave behind large, felid-like prints that further tantalise and torment their trackers. Where do they come from? And how did they get here?
Australia has never had an indigenous cat species – unless you count one prehistoric marsupial cousin. Tens of thousands of years ago a deadly animal stalked the wilds of the Australian bush. Thylacoleo carnifex, “the flesh-eating pouched lion”, was christened in 1859 by respected paleontologist Professor Richard Owen, who declared it a carnivorous marsupial cat, a judgment that set him at odds with the paleontology establishment.
Sporting blade-like teeth, Thylacoleo measured 1.5m in length and weighed about 120kg. Its incredibly strong jaws and presumably feline stealth would have made it a formidable hunter during the Pleistocene era (about 1.6 million years ago). The creature became extinct about 40,000 years ago, leaving the Australian bush – and the nomadic Aboriginal tribes who inhabited the country at about the same time – relatively predator-free. But many wonder: did it truly die out?
Another strong contender in the debate is an animal that once ranged from the wilds of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea right across the Australian mainland down to Tasmania – the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). There are certainly some aspects of the witness descriptions that resonate with this species, now officially extinct. However, in the case of the so-called Queensland Tiger, the aboreal nature of this creature cited in many reports would appear to rule the Thylacinus out of contention – and if the sightings are to be given any credence at all, they may raise the spectre of an altogether new and hitherto unidentified marsupial species.

Call of the wild
There are a rash of other theories about what these big cats are, and how they might have got here. In 1788, the first British colonists set foot on Australian soil. These resourceful men, women and children quickly established themselves and introduced a range of animals once foreign to these shores, including rabbits, foxes and the first domestic – and soon-to-be-feral – cats. Could descendants of these small British cats (and perhaps those from Dutch shipwrecks) have morphed into the super-sized cats first spotted in the bush about 100 years later?
Fast-forward to 1876, and the mega circus of Cooper, Bailey & Co (precursor to the famous Barnum and Bailey’s Circus) comes to Australian shores. The dazzling spectacle toured NSW and Victoria and featured a swag of “alien” animals including jaguars, leopards, bears, tigers, hyenas, elephants, zebras, a hippopotamus, monkeys and camels. The presence of the large American circus with its extensive exotic menagerie no doubt inspired Australia’s St Leon circus to add big cats to its line-up in 1882 – the first travelling circus troupe in Australia to do so – enthralling audiences and becoming a major draw card. However, circuses were not without problems, including frequent crashes en route and careless handling, often resulting in escapes. Are the descendants of circus escapees living and breeding in the bush?
In the 1850s and 1860s, gold fever gripped the nation. Prospectors flocked from as far away as China and America to the Victorian and NSW goldfields in pursuit of instant wealth, some of them so intent on guarding their claims they often took extraordinary precautions – including, it is believed, chaining pumas to their diggings. Are relations of those gold-rush pumas on the loose in Australia’s wilderness?
The 1940s were a period of great disruption in Australia, with American servicemen thick on the ground. When they weren’t being dispatched to war zones or romancing Australian women in crowded dance halls, if folklore is to be believed it seems they were busy caring for exotic unit mascots – namely, “black panthers”. Did servicemen really keep wild cats as unit mascots? And if so, once they got their marching orders and realised they couldn’t take them into battle, did they release these same “panthers” into the wilderness rather than humanely put them down?
And, finally, we have the growing menace of feral cats in the Australian bush. Domestic cats quickly got their claws into this country, rapidly spreading and establishing themselves across the continent. But are they now changing, mutating and growing to sizes far larger than has previously been expected of Felis catus, the domestic house cat? Could an evolutionary quirk be responsible for the hundreds of big-cat sightings around Australia? Or might feral cats have crossed with Indonesian jungle cats from earlier Aboriginal-Indonesian interactions over thousands of years, creating genetically superior “monster cats” through hybrid vigour?
Whatever the origin, the sightings of large, cat-like animals appear to be on the rise in Australia’s western and eastern states. In Western Australia in the late 1970s the state government initiated an inquiry into spiralling reports of strange predation in the Cordering district; NSW has experienced a profusion of big-cat sightings in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury areas, so much so that the state government initiated two inquiries into the matter in 1999-2001 and 2008.
The wilderness of the Blue Mountains stretches over 1 million hectares. It is a vast landscape of sheer cliffs, swamps, rugged tablelands and deep, impenetrable valleys that harbour many secrets – including, in the Wollemi National Park, the recently rediscovered “living fossil”, the Wollemi Pine. It is not unreasonable to suggest that something more than ancient trees might be lurking within that rugged landscape, some parts of which have yet to be explored by man.
On the western side of the Blue Mountains lies the small coal-mining town of Lithgow. On the morning of May 9, 2001, residents Gail and Wayne Pound were at home getting ready to go to work. It was about 7am; Gail was getting dressed while Wayne was in the shower. Looking up, she spied a large feral cat in the scrub outside her bedroom window. However, it was the cat’s much larger feline companion that caused her to do a double-take.
“We were quite mesmerised,” she told Channel Nine’s A Current Affair.
Added Wayne: “I got the binoculars and had a good look at it. And I was still looking at it and all of a sudden it got up and I said, ‘No, hang on … that’s a giant cat’ and Gail yelled out, ‘That’s a leopard!’ I said, ‘No, hang on, that’s a panther!’”
Luckily for the Pounds they had a video camera handy and managed to capture evidence of the cats’ visitation, with a naked Wayne filming the feline pair for 15 minutes before the cats moved on. The footage caused a sensation after it was sold to Channel Nine, which broadcast the images nationwide.
Upon viewing the video, the NSW Department of Agriculture’s exotic animal expert, Bill Atkinson, lent further weight to the footage: “That’s a very big cat – I would say, by the size of it, it could be a panther.” Strangely, nobody thought to reshoot footage in the same location, from the same distance with the same zoom to provide a proper comparison and give some idea of scale. Another thing forgotten in the frenzy was that the video actually showed two cats – a large cat described as a “panther” and a smaller, domestic-looking cat. In the wild, a true big cat would likely eat its much smaller domesticated cousin.
Perhaps fittingly, given its suspected big-cat status, what happened next was nothing short of a circus. Amateur researchers and government employees descended on Lithgow to hunt for further evidence of the animal. Atkinson was the only one to conduct a conventional investigation by laying hair traps and examining scratch marks on an acacia tree and large droppings left nearby. Unfortunately, he came up empty-handed.
“The scratchings and ripped bark were about 1.5m high on the tree,” Atkinson said at the time. “It is hard to believe a possum could have done that.” Perhaps aware of how his remarks might be interpreted, he later qualified them in a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald: “[They] are interesting, considering where they are, but they may have been made with a blunt penknife.”

Pile of bones
The government investigation yielded nothing, but media coverage of the events in Lithgow triggered a wave of anecdotal reports from the public. The Pounds’ sighting was by no means the first for the tiny township, and most likely not the last. For the past 20 years, big cat reports have been something of a fixture in The Lithgow Mercury, according to editor Len Ashworth, who has recorded many of the yarns himself. He’s been with the newspaper more than 50 years, starting as a cadet reporter in 1956.
“I remember back when I was a young graded journalist I was at the police station one morning when a person who was travelling through town came in in a state of distress and said he and his family had been frightened by a strange animal on a section of the highway near South Bowenfels,” Ashworth recalls. “He said he had turned off into a sidetrack off the highway below the Hassans Walls escarpment to answer a call of nature. When he got out of the car he heard a loud, growling noise and saw a large, cat-like animal … That was about 40 years ago. The police went down there with him and he pointed out the area. The track led up to the vicinity of a small mining operation. The police noted a strange smell there and found a pile of animal bones.”
Police have logged their own sightings, with two officers relating how they nearly ran over large black cats the size of dogs in the early hours of the morning on local roads. Senior constable Paul Semmut remembers his sighting in August 2004 vividly. “It was on Scenic Hill, on Chifley Road, on the eastern side of the War Memorial [about 2am]. I was driving by myself and I almost ran over the thing, it was pretty close. It was about a metre long and had black, silky fur… the way it ran off it looked like a cat. My first reaction was it was a damn big cat.
“We have had call-outs in the same area – I’ve heard of three myself, mostly shift-workers coming home from work. It’s nothing of a police nature so we don’t really worry about it, there’s just the interest factor. If we did go out we would probably get in touch with the council ranger of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and report it. I’ve always been a real sceptic about these reports, but now I’m a believer.”
Back in Gippsland, the mystery of the slaughtered livestock remains unsolved. Big black and brown cats are still seen slipping between the shadows near roads and across paddocks. And animals are still dying in savage and unusual circumstances.
From Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang (Strange Nation Publishing, $35). Buy the book here:

*This extract first appeared in The Weekend Australian magazine on June 26, 2010

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Curiosity leads to cat book

Rebecca Lang and Michael Williams from Hazelbrook have two little cats whom they find interesting enough, but giant cats are what really tickles their fancy — and the intrigue that stems from the growing volume of sightings in the Australian bush.
The pair launched their self-published book, Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, at Hawkesbury Regional Museum last Sunday. The sizeable book is packed with personal accounts of encounters with large cat-like creatures in all parts of Australia, supplemented by photographs which they hope will be enough to make even cynics purr with intrigue.
“A cat is the most perfect predator and these ones are giants,” said Mr Williams.
“The Department of Primary Industry to this day claim there is no evidence they exist here but their own reports including sightings and descriptions by staff points to clear evidence they do.”
Mr Williams claims to have seen a cheetah-like animal the size of a large German Shepherd near a waterhole in Maryborough, Victoria in the early 1990s.
After they attended a presentation about big cats at a conference in Sydney in 2001, the couple surrendered to their sense of curiosity and decided to collect as much archival evidence about big cats as they could.
“We had enough material to fill a wheelie bin, so as big as the book is we couldn’t put everything in it that we had,” said Ms Lang.
“The book concentrates on the documents that are quite compelling and it is grouped into geographical areas, including a chapter on the Blue Mountains and accounts by witnesses.”
A former editor of the Hawkesbury Gazette, Ms Lang said the mystery behind the presence of big cats in the bush always generated reader interest.
“I found any time we ran a story on anything about big cat sightings the response was phenomenal and the paper would sell out.
“Sightings of black and tanned panthers or leopard-like animals in the Blue Mountains go back almost 100 years.
“We’ve included a chapter about that with the assistance of local author Bruce Cameron who gave us access to environmentalist Myles Dunphy’s account of his sighting of a cheetah-like beast near the Katoomba-Jenolan Caves Track in 1912.
“You will always get your cynics and your believers but, you know, I think we all need a bit of mystery in our lives.”
Australian Big Cats is available to order at
It is also stocked at Hazelbrook Newsagency, The Turning Page and Megalong Books.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A naturalist's dream auction

This is one auction that will have something for everyone, but the articles that have caught our eye include a large range of taxidermied animals and Gould bird prints. There is also a set of cabinets made especially for Sir Joseph Banks' Australian specimens, which are tipped to bring in a pretty penny.

The earliest item is a semi-fossilised Pleistocene Irish Elk skull dated at around 5000 years old. There are also several stuffed rare and extinct Australian specimens.

Monday, 21 June 2010

CFZ flag flies high

Those shameless publicity seekers Rebecca Lang and Mike Williams have just launched their book, Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers.
Mike wore his CFZ colours on the day!
Here they are pictured with witness and ace photographer Shane Foreman (left) at the launch, which was held at the Hawkesbury Regional Museum.
Incidentally, the Museum is presently host to an excellent exhibition, Hawkesbury Myth and Legend, featuring some of the duo's contributions.
You can buy the book at
Mike and Rebecca will also be speaking at this year's UK Weird Weekend 2010!
Read more about the line-up here:

Do big cats exist in the Hills?

MIKE Williams doesn’t believe Australian big cats exist. He knows they do.
Williams and his partner Rebecca Lang have just published their book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers and in it they not only ask such questions as: what are they? and where did they come from?.
They also seek answers in a revealing look into one of Australia’s greatest mysteries.
One of the stories featured in the book is that of Kenthurst’s Luke Walker’s encounter in March, 2003.
His experience will forever be etched in his mind and that of Hills residents, as the cat “the size of a labrador” leapt at him in the dark and left him with deep cuts to his arm.
Williams, a writer and photographer, said he was a sceptic about the big cats until he was asked to video a conference Lang, a journalist, was holding about the mysterious feline species in 2001.
“At the conference I saw a picture taken of a lioness around 1986/87 caught by police at Broken Hill,” he said.
“From then on I knew these cats existed.
“The whole subject is fascinating.
“It is very hard to hunt down a ‘big cat’ in Australia because they are smart animals, there is not much open bushland and we don’t have trained hounds. Especially in the back of Grose Vale, you can’t see more than 100m in front of you at times.”
Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers book took the pair eight years of research and interviews to complete and during that time their experiences and discoveries have been featured in various documentaries including the Discovery Channel Animal X.
Their work has also appeared in many magazines including Australian Shooter, Big Cat Yearbook 2007, the Centre for Fortean Zoology Yearbook 2009 and The Fortean Times Paranormal Handbook 2009.
You can pick-up a copy through their website at

The Bunyip - Horror on Home Turf

Impish Aboriginal prank or beastly reality? Mel Campbell probes the enduring mystery of the bunyip.

THE mythological creatures that fill today's horror literature and movies hail from faraway lands. Zombie tales originated in the Caribbean, while European folk tales gave us vampires and werewolves. But a vastly more terrifying creature lurks much closer to home: one that has haunted the dreams of Australian children and the imaginations of adults: the bunyip.

Bunyips are not at all funny, although recent children's books, plays and TV have made them seem that way. Rather, the bunyip is a fascinating emblem of cross-cultural contact in colonial Australia: an indigenous bogeyman that came to terrify European settlers.

The bunyip is that breath of cold air on the back of your neck in a closed room. It's that person staring at you in a crowded party, whose face you can't place. It's an anxious mystery that makes us doubt ourselves . . . which is why Australians have tried to laugh it off.

White settlers first learned of bunyips from indigenous Australians in the early 19th century. The word itself comes from the Wergaia people of north-western Victoria, although similar creatures exist in indigenous folklore across Australia. William Buckley, the escaped convict who lived with the Wathaurong near the Barwon River, claimed to have spotted one several times.

Another escaped convict turned bushranger, George Clarke, had lived with the Gamilaraay on the Namoi River in northern New South Wales. Trying to capture Clarke's gang in 1832, policeman Captain John Forbes met "Liverpool", a Gamilaraay leader who sketched a creature he called a "Wawee". It had fin-like feet, teeth and a tusk. "All the Blacks express fear of it, and say that it will devour them if it can catch them in the water," wrote Forbes in his diary. A town in the Wawee's splashing ground is now known as Wee Waa. Similarly, in 1878 indigenous man Kurruk sketched a fearsome, emu-like bunyip called Toor-roo-dun said to terrorise swamps around Western Port — where Tooradin stands.

While the bunyip was always large, amphibious and emitted a terrifying moan, no two accounts seem to agree about its physical appearance. In some descriptions it had a seal's flippers and sleek body; in others, scales or shaggy dark fur. It usually had tusks or horns, but its head could resemble a pig's, dog's, cow's or duck's.

This uncertainty frustrated white settlers. Robert Brough Smyth's 1878 book Aborigines of Vic-toria concluded that the locals "appear to have been in such dread of it as to have been unable to take note of its characteristics."

Other colonialists were more sceptical. In an 1891 ghost story, Rosa Campbell Praed wrote, "The blacks have an impish drollery and love of mischief, and they delight in imposing on the credulity of their white auditors." Captain Forbes worried: "I am not very sure, after all, that these people are not laughing at us."

White Australians have long debated whether the bunyip is, or was, a real creature. After all, to European eyes Australian wildlife already seemed like a bizarre zoological prank: deer that stood like humans but hopped like frogs; egg-laying otters with ducks' bills and beavers' tails.

The word "bunyip" first appeared in print in July 1845, under a Geelong Advertiser headline: "Wonderful Discovery of a New Animal". But an edition of the Warrnambool Examiner, dated May 12, 1857, dismissed "stupid and idle stories" about bunyips, concluding: "It's obvious that the bunyip is a mere tradition of the crocodile, with which the northern rivers abound."

Australian Museum naturalist George Bennett was first to suggest formally (in 1871) that the bunyip might be an indigenous cultural memory of extinct Australian megafauna, passed down through oral tradition. By 1991, the authors of Vertebrate Palaeontology of Australasia were postulating that, "When confronted with the remains of some of the now extinct Australian marsupials, Aborigines would often identify them as the bunyip."

And in 1998, geologist Greg McNamara told Australian Geo-graphic magazine his theory that the remembered bunyip was actually a prehistoric turtle, Meiolania prisca, "a most impressive beast" up to two metres long with a metre-long, bony club tail and curved 25-centimetre horns.

Aborigines' and Europeans' shared uncertainty colours the bunyip's meaning even today. By the 1850s, the word came to denote imposture and pretension: in 1853, radical lawyer and political activist Daniel Deniehy lampooned William Wentworth's bid for a hereditary peerage in Australia by branding it a "bunyip aristocracy". Prime Minister Paul Keating used the same phrase to ridicule his Liberal opponents in Parliament.

The 1970 comedy/documentary The Naked Bunyip dealt frankly with Australian sexuality. Director John Murray had read a story in which a bunyip didn't know what sort of creature it was. "We, as Australians, did not have a strong sense of identity, either," Murray recalled in 2005. "Were we a myth, too? Why not strip this creature bare and find out what it is made of?"

Australian parents used the indigenous stories to warn their children away from the bush. In colonial times, kids regularly drowned in waterholes or died of exposure, so these scary tales were practical. But as children's entertainment strove to build a self-consciously Australian vocabulary in the early 20th century, bunyips began to appear as literary monsters.

The children's pantomime The Bunyip was the Wiggles of its day, playing from 1916 to 1924. A stunningly elaborate production, it featured indigenous actors throwing boomerangs out over the crowd!

But by the 1957 children's musical The Bunyip and the Satellite, the bunyip had become wise and whimsical, advising children how to defeat the wicked Bush Fire Spirit. Barry Humphries, who played the bunyip, described it as a "prancing bird-like clown with a falsetto that inevitably got huskier after 12 performances a week".

Humphries also presided over a giant bunyip float in the 1958 Moomba parade and starred in a Channel Seven TV series. He fled from bunyip typecasting by moving to London in 1959. But by then, kindly bunyips were the go — especially Michael Salmon's pink Alexander Bunyip, who ate Canberra in 1972 and will soon get his own statue outside the Gungahlin library.

Nonetheless, the bunyip retained an undercurrent of fear. As a child I remember finding the Ron Brooks illustrations in The Bunyip of Ber-keley's Creek (1973) deeply disturbing. And Patricia Wrightson's The Ice Is Coming (1977) featured the chilling description: "Its red eyes were like death and its bellow was like fear . . . You could not tell what it was except that it was dreadful . . ."

Perhaps the last hurrah of bunyip-related childhood terror is a Facebook group called "I Was Freaked Out By The Bunyip In Dot And The Kangaroo". In the 1977 animated film, amid Godzilla-esque roars and horror-film strings, Maurie Wilmore crooned ominously: "So you better come home quickly/and you better hide very soon/or the Bunyip's going to get you/in the Bunyip moon".

There must be many emotionally scarred Gen-Xers out there. But I say: let's scar Gen Y! Recent local horror films have tended to focus on vengeful ghosts, killer wildlife and sadistic torturers in remote areas, or have imported vampire and zombie narratives to Australia. Clearly, the time is ripe for the bunyip's chilling return to Australian popular culture.

Man spots Night Parrot

Natimuk man spots rare night parrot during bird watching trek

18 Jun, 2010 12:00 AM
NATIMUK birdwatcher Clive Curson has spotted Australia's rarest bird - a night parrot.

The night parrot, Pezoporus occidentalis, is such a rare and secretive bird that bird experts thought it might be extinct.

News of the sighting has sparked a rush to the remote outback site by keen birdwatchers throughout Australia.

Mr Curson's sighting of a live specimen is the third sighting of the bird in almost a century.

The other two sightings were of dead night parrots.

Mr Curson was on his way around Australia doing bird surveys, when he spotted the night parrot in a remote part of Western Australia.

Speaking from Halls Creek yesterday, he said the find was `absolutely blind luck'.

"The night parrot is a myth, it's legendary stuff, a kids' story," he said.

He was driving slowly east along Skull Springs Road at 10.45am towards the Woodie Woodie Mine, south-east of Marble Bar, when he suddenly disturbed a parrot.

"It was fluttering on the road next to the car," he said.

"I slammed on the anchors. He fluttered and sat in a little dead bush on the side of the road, between the spinifex and the road.

"My binoculars came to hand and I was absolutely blown away. What bird is this? It is fat, has no tail, is greenish with no features. I was quite frustrated. I know my parrots, but what is this thing?

"It was looking back at me from 20 feet away.

"It then took a hop forward and came into the complete open. It was facing away from me. I could see its back, then it turned its face and looked at me."

He was still frustrated about its identity.

"Parrots are all slender with long tails," he said. "This bird was not beautiful. It was just a bird with a boofy head.

"I wanted him to be brown and yellow to match up with the picture of all the parrots in my head."

Mr Curson said when he got out of the car, the bird fluttered off towards a tree then ducked down into the spinifex.

"Then a few pennies started to drop," he said.

He spent the next 20 minutes searching for the bird in a 20-metre by 20-metre area, without success.

"No-one will find that bird if it does not want to be found," he said.

He said that after close and careful study through his binoculars, with a clear view, for about 20 seconds he said he was sure of the bird's identity.

"It is so different from anything else," he said. "If you have been looking at parrots, you would just know."

He said a message from another birdwatcher was that emerald green plumage on the bird's back suggested an adult, because juveniles were browner.

Mr Curson has been birdwatching for 12 years and has surveyed birds in almost every corner of Australia, from Natimuk Creek to the isolated Torres Strait island of Boigu.

Combining his passion for birds with long-distance bushwalking, he has walked for thousands of kilometres, surveying birds in places few bird enthusiasts can access.

Mr Curson is looking for work in Halls Creek because his car has broken down.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

On the hunt for the big cat that refuses to die

June 20, 2010
Is this the fabled feline?

Exotic feline or enduring phantom? Something big, something strange has been stalking the Blue Mountains for decades and it's back in the spotlight, Eamonn Duff reports.
PAUL CAUCHI and his girlfriend Naomi were in a celebratory mood.
The couple had just signed the paperwork for their new home near Mudgee but that's not why they will remember May 28, 2010.
''We were driving through Yarrawonga and Naomi saw it first,'' explained Mr Cauchi.

'''Look,' she said, 'Can you see that? … It's … it's a panther!'
''And the moment I saw it, I swore out loud in disbelief - because that's exactly what it was.''
The couple had ''a perfect seven- or eight-second view'' of the creature standing in front of them, outside a goat farm.
''I'd heard the stories but never believed a word of it,'' said Mr Cauchi. ''I've seen how big feral bush cats grow, but this was no feral cat. There is no mistaking, this was a panther. Now I'm thinking, how has this remained in doubt for so long?''
NSW Minister for Primary Industries Steve Whan said he had been made aware of four other possible sighting of the ''panther'' this year.
"The state government takes all reports of alleged black cat sightings seriously,'' Mr Whan said.
Rumours have circulated for decades about a colony of panther-like cats roaming Sydney's western fringes and beyond: from Lithgow to Mudgee and the Hawkesbury to the Hunter Valley. While witnesses are routinely ridiculed, a new book published today presents a compelling argument that the creatures are more than simply folklore.
Mike Williams, co-author of Australian Big Cats - An Unnatural History of Panthers, said: ''I cannot tell you with any certainty what species of cat this is but there is no doubting it is out there. It's an extremely large feline that does not appear to be native to Australia.''
Chris Coffey, of Grose Vale, a hamlet at the foot of the Blue Mountains, saw it twice in the late 1980s. Since then, proving its existence has become an obsession. She has collected more than 450 statements from tourists, bushwalkers and locals including a NSW police officer, a Qantas pilot and a retired magistrate.
Mrs Coffey said: ''National Parks and Wildlife know it exists, because their own staff have seen it. The NSW government is aware it's here because their own reports conclude that. [But] due to negative media coverage, the current public perception is that we're all a bunch of idiots.''
The case took a twist in 2001 when a freedom-of-information request unearthed a series of confidential government documents that proved wildlife authorities were so concerned about the big cat and the danger to humans, they commissioned an ''expert'' to catch it.
The three-day hunt later failed, but ecologist Johannes J. Bauer warned: ''Difficult as it seems to accept, the most likely explanation is the presence of a large, feline predator. In this area, [it is] most likely a leopard, less likely a jaguar.''
In the years that followed, sightings continued to pour in. In 2003, Hawkesbury Council released a detailed map of sightings and livestock attacks, pinpointing Grose Vale, Grose Wold, Londonderry, Yarramundi, Bowen Mountain, Kurrajong, East Kurrajong, Colo, Agnes Banks, Windsor Downs, Ebenezer, and the Macdonald Valley.
The state government commissioned a second study in 2008. Fuelling cover-up claims, an FOI request later revealed two versions of the report, the latter heavily edited for public consumption - and stripped of its final conclusion which stated: ''It seems more likely than not on available evidence that such animals do exist in NSW.''
But sceptics continue to dismiss the creature as an urban myth. To date, there remains no solid proof, not a single photo that demonstrates that the exotic big cat is real.
Mrs Coffey remains convinced that evidence will emerge sooner rather than later - based on witness accounts, the creature is increasingly being spotted out in the open, and closer to humans.
Mr Williams, meanwhile, looks to the day when an opportunity arises to pinpoint the creature's origin. ''If these things were just leopards, we'd be losing bushwalkers left, right and centre - so that leaves us with something else. It has taken large livestock over the years and the fear is that one day a child could end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.''
According to Mrs Coffey's database, there have been several close calls. In August 2008, Brianna Lloyd, 11, and Burgundie Cartan, 12, were holidaying at Wisemans Ferry. Disobeying family instructions, the girls set off exploring a remote section of the park, then came face to face with a large black cat that sprang down from a tree in front of them.
"We heard all this crunching and then a big black thing dropped out of the tree with something [a dead duck] in its mouth, so we ran … it was hunched down like it was going to jump at us," Brianna said of the incident.
"It made a horrible growling noise. It was bigger than a labrador - it was a really big cat."

Phantom or phenomenon
BLUE MOUNTAINS residents have long been accused of seeing things but they can draw some comfort in knowing they are not alone.
A search online reveals ''alien big cats'', as they are known in cryptozoology circles, have been reported running wild everywhere from Britain to Denmark, Finland to Luxembourg and Hawaii to New Zealand.
Photographs of phantom felines are usually grainy and scientists largely scoff, citing the lack of furry evidence and the improbability of there being enough large cats for them to keep breeding.

Pumas have been spotted roaming the Grampians in Victoria for years.
American servicemen are blamed for releasing cougars into the bush after bringing them to Australia as mascots during World War II.
A Deakin University study found that a big-cat population in the area was ''beyond reasonable doubt'' but sceptics maintain they are just feral moggies turned monstrous. In New Zealand, panther sightings have been on the increase since the late 1990s around Canterbury, near Ashburton, and in the nearby foothills of the Southern Alps.
If you believe the British, big cats have been prowling their countryside for decades. There's the Surrey Puma and the Fen Tiger. Devon and Somerset share the elusive Beast of Exmoor. Every year, Gloucestershire police are inundated with dozens of sightings in the Forest of Dean.
A black panther has been savaging livestock in Leicestershire and England's smallest county, Rutland, for decades. But perhaps the most famous British big cat of all is the elusive Beast of Bodmin Moor.
Like the elusive exotic example from the Blue Mountains - from which the NRL's Penrith Panthers takes its name - one long-held theory about British big cats is they were imported by private collectors or zoos, only to later escape.
The truth is out there.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Dingoes' plight moves musos

We've blogged before about the plight of Fraser Island's dingoes, believed to be the most genetically pure of any in Australia.

Specifically we highlighted the strange and bizarre treatment of dingo campaigner Jennifer Parkhurst, whose home was raided and photos and documents, including her book manuscript, confiscated by government authorities.

Now some of Australia's finest musicians, including the John Butler Trio and renowned animal rights campaigner Vanessa Amorosi, are rallying to help another animal rights activist, Jaylene Musgrave, a former music publicist, to save the animals.

Former Sunshine Coast wildlife warrior Bob Irwin told a local newspaper this week that current laws regarding dingoes were “heavy-handed”.

“Nobody should have to walk past an animal that's starving and the Fraser Island dingoes are emaciated,” Mr Irwin said.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Thylacine pelts for sale

Bet that got your attention! OK, not genuine thylacine pelts, but cleverly crafted 'pelts' by two Tasmanian artists.

Read more about the pelts here.

Friday, 11 June 2010

CFZ 'mother blog' has a million reasons to celebrate!

The CFZ 'mother blog' celebrated 1 million hits last week - whoo-hoo! (And gracing the spot just above the counter at present is the banner ad spruiking Mike and Rebecca's new book, which you can read more about at - forgive the plug but they're self-publishers, the worst kind of self-promoters!)

Congrats to Jon and the CFZers!

Night parrot sightings!

We came across this interesting posting today about the 'Holy Grail' of the bird world:
which details this and a few other Night parrot sightings:

I have just received a report of a Night Parrot seen Skull Springs Road in Western Australia from XXXX at 21 52 15S 120 48 29E on 2/06/2010. Notes from XXXX are as follows: “I noticed the single bird fluttering next to the car, so stopped as soon as I could. It has perched a foot off the ground in a dead bush. I got my binoculars quickly only the bird, only 6-7m away. It then fluttered forward a meter or 2 to the ground and hopped once or twice, in front of me but turning it’s face to observe me. The emerald back flecked with dark markings, short tail and very stocky build caused me to immediately dismiss Musk Lorikeet as an option (aside from the range). Largish head had a greyish/horn/black (slightly large) bill. A couple of centimeters larger than a Musk Lorikeet, it may have weighed twice as much due to it’s large body. This bird resembled nothing else I had seen, and even with only 15-20sec (Bino) view of the bird, it is like no other parrot in the West or the whole of region. About 30-40seconds after I first spotted it it, flew/fluttered off into the spinifex, ignoring the tree about 25-30m away. I searched the spinifex for 15-20minutes.”

And this:
“…We were driving slowly at the time with windows down and no music playing. At 5:45pm (sunset was at 5:27pm), 3 fast-flying birds crossed our track about 5-10m in front of our car. They were roughly 1.5m above the ground. I hesitantly said “Night Parrots” and David agreed. The habitat in the direct vicinity consisted of a large mesa and rolling hills, with open Eucalyptus woodland and a spinifex ground cover. This site was the most productive in terms of bird diversity and abundance throughout the survey, most likely due to water availability. For example, a pair of Grey Falcons and 6 Ground Cuckoo-shrikes were observed at this location on May 28th. The birds in question appeared to be coming from a large eucalypt-lined watercourse at the base of the mesa, almost perfecting in line with 2 small pools of water in the creekbed. The direction they were heading was towards rolling hills dominated by spinifex, with very few trees (mainly Eucalyptus and dead shrubs).

To learn more about the Night Parrot, watch our video:

Long live the Night Parrot!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Rare quoll drops by for Penrith vet visit

03 Jun, 2010 10:58 AM

A RELATIVE of the Tasmanian Devil was the last thing an Erskine Park pigeon breeder expected to find caught in his feral cat trap last Thursday.

This rare spotted-tail quoll has now been returned to his bushland habitat in the Blue Mountains after he ventured into the suburban outskirts along Erskine Park Road last week. Also known as the tiger quoll, the critter is a critically endangered species and the largest carnivorous marsupial in mainland Australia.

The introduction of feral animals, diseases and the destruction of their forest habitats has greatly reduced their numbers in recent years.

Renowned for their feisty nature, this young quoll was in perfect health and enjoyed an overnight feast of frozen chicken necks before being returned to the bush the next day.

"It's extremely unusual to see one in Sydney," said Jilea Carney, a spokesman for WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Incorporated), Australia's largest wildlife rescue organisation.

WIRES volunteer rescuer and St Clair resident Sean Cade, who spent Thursday night caring for the quoll, believes recent backburning in the Blue Mountains forced the quoll to venture further afield and become displaced. ``He was very frightened,'' he said. ``It's in the middle of breeding season, so he would have been looking for mates.''

Mr Cade said it was unlikely there were others in the area. ``There are people who have been with WIRES for 20 years who had never seen one until now,'' he said.

Residents who spot one should contact WIRES on 89773333.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A plug in the Cat Diaries

The Cat Diaries has an article on big cats this week, which you can read here:


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